Sunday, June 3, 2012

tUnE-yArDs and Mariachi at the 9:30 Club

Still playing catch-up from last weekend:  After the gardening, the art show, and a great conversation with Lady, I met up with Amy for a concert at the 9:30 Club.  It's arguably the best place in DC for live concerts of the non-classical sort.  They get all sorts of people, and the shows are constantly sold out.  For that reason -- and the fact that rock concerts aren't usually top of mind for me -- I'd never been to a concert there before (Amy, thankfully, had had the foresight to get tickets back in January). 

The venue was smaller than I'd expected -- definitely smaller than a high-school gym, with a balcony around the top.  And I quickly discovered that all the concert-going rules/norms that I know and love from the classical world didn't apply.  In fact, they were just the opposite:  One should have worn a hipster T-shirt and jeans/shorts, flip-flops/sneakers, and an ironic mustache instead of a pristinely ironed white shirt, cords and loafers -- though the mustard-yellow color of said cords was probably a step in the right direction).  One did not sit; instead, one stood body-to-body and wormed one's way as close to the stage as one could.  Talking, singing along, drinking, and photography/videotaping were all perfectly acceptable (and if one wasn't doing one or more of those things, one risked appearing awfully square), as was standing in front of people who were shorter than one and/or trying to sit.  In other words, I felt like I'd gone through the looking glass -- but it was all enormously fun.

The best part was the sound.  I've been to rock concerts before and have generally hated them because the music is amplified so loudly that I can't hear anything other than noise -- there's no balance or musicality.  The difference in sound quality between those concerts and this concert was like night and day:  It was awesome.  I could hear everything that I was supposed to hear, and I could hear it in proper balance -- even at earsplitting volume. 

Yeah, the volume was the worst part.  SO LOUD!!!  Especially the mariachi band, with its trumpets -- honestly, I don't think my ears have ever hurt so much outside of an ear infection.  (Turns out I wasn't the only one with volume issues: I noticed a lot of people wearing ear plugs.)  Even so, for the sound quality to be so impressive at such a loud volume only impressed me more.

So what bands did we see?  The opener was Mariachi el Bronx, which, as you might imagine, was a mariachi band from the Los Angeles (go figure).  Only this wasn't the traditional cheesy mariachi -- this was punk mariachi and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  The trumpets were amazing, and they all clearly were having a great time.

Mariachi El Bronx

The main draw was a band called tUnEyArDs, who, despite the annoying capitalization and a difficult-to-read website, was super impressive.  

The lead singer was really the driving engine of the band, and most of the songs were just her on vocals and percussion.  The trick was extensive and expert use of looping to create richly-layered recordings of herself that then accompanied (and became) the rest of the song.  She was SO good, and the whole ensemble had impeccable timing so that the looping really worked like clockwork.  Improvised clockwork.  Because although the songs clearly had a basic structure, they also seemed to have a significant improv element (less obvious than jazz, and following different rules, but still there).  As for how to describe the sound, my amateur critic's lexicon is inadequate:  I'd say it was pretty heavily influenced by African rhythms, but there was a lot of other stuff in there too.  So maybe just look for clips in YouTube.

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